15 Mar How to Protect Yourself from Tax-Related Identity Theft
Tax season is a busy time for accountants, but we’re not the only ones who are often working overtime at this time of year. Scammers and identity thieves often put in a lot of extra effort during tax season, attempting to get ahold or your Social Security number and other financial information, or to simply trick you into sending them money.
At The Accounting Guys, we want every one of our clients to be well informed, so that you are able to protect yourself from tax-related identity theft. Here is some important information and vital tips you should know to avoid being a victim of one of these scams.
Identifying a Scam
Most attempts at identity theft or scamming begin as an email or phone call. Many of these scammers can be quite convincing in their attempts to impersonate the IRS. The best way to protect yourself from these thieves is to know the markers of a scam and avoid responding to these contact attempts. Here are some of the most common ways these scams work, and how you can identify them:
- Threatening phone calls: This is perhaps the most common way in which thieves will try to make contact with their potential victims. They will call and impersonate an IRS agent, threatening you with lawsuits, arrest, and deportation unless you immediately send them a payment. They may even call and claim they want to send you a refund, but need some information from you. Please be aware that the IRS will never make these kinds of phone calls, and do not ever give any information or send any money to someone who contacts you in this way.
- Email scams: Email is another popular way for scammers to find new victims. If you ever receive an email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, you should forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org and delete the email. The IRS will never contact you via email or social media, so if you receive any message on these platforms regarding your taxes, you can be certain that it is a scam.
- Fake websites: Some scammers take a more passive approach and design websites that appear to be legitimate, but which are designed to steal your information. Before clicking on any links, first be sure that you trust the source sending it to you. (Again, if the person is claiming to be from the IRS, but they’re contacting on email or social media, they are a scammer.) Then, mouse over the link and read the actual URL that pops up; this can differ from the text of the link. If the URL does not begin with irs.gov, do not click the link. Report it to the IRS via the email address above.
Protecting Your Personal Information
Not all efforts at identity theft are as obvious as the scams listed above. You can have your identity stolen without even knowing it. One common tactic for identity thieves is to file a false tax return using your Social Security number early on in the tax season. You likely won’t even be aware this has happened until you try to file your own return, and the IRS informs you one has already been filed using that Social Security number.
During tax season, your personal identifying information can often be easier to steal. Here are a few ways that you can protect yourself from identity theft during tax season and throughout the year:
- Never carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a secure location such as a locked filing cabinet in your home.
- Only share your Social Security number with someone you trust completely, like your accountant in Provo or a medical professional.
- Take care to protect your financial information when doing any online shopping. If you don’t completely trust the website, use a more secure means of payment, such as PayPal.
- Perform annual checks of your credit report to check for unauthorized activity.
- Always use firewalls and anti-virus software, and keep these programs updated for your protection.
- Updated your passwords regularly, and use a different, secure password for each account.
Unfortunately, even when you take the proper steps to protect yourself, you may still become the victim of identity theft. If this does occur, take proper steps to stop any financial activity as quickly as you can, in order to minimize the impact that this has on your life. If you receive written notices from the IRS in relation to your identity theft, call the number provided and fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) and submit it using the provided instructions. This will help get the issue fixed as quickly as possible.
Rest assured that, at The Accounting Guys, we take every step possible to protect your information, and always use the most secure filing and file storage systems available. If you have further questions regarding tax-related scams and identity theft, or you would like to learn more about how we help to minimize your risks, please contact your accountant in Provo.